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The Face and Politics of REFUGEES Are Changng
Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert
Washington, DC
Friday, September 3, 2021


The Face and Politics of REFUGEES Are Changing

By Margaret Orchowski

For the past year or so, the face of  "refugees" in the press has been "Latinos" fleeing gang violence and government corruption in their Central American homelands. But that perception changed in August. The face of refugees now is desperate Afghani families fleeing certain torture and death. But who are really refugees? Legislators have to pay close attention to legal definitions such as immigrant, migrant, asylee and refugee when they make laws. There are clear differences the media and public should know.   

  • Migrants are those populations (human and animal) that move from one area to another, within or between nation states. 
  • Immigrant is the term used for people who seek to move permanently from their home country to another. Every sovereign nation state makes their own laws stating who can immigrate there, who can't and how those laws are to be enforced. Each year the U.S. gives out over 1 million new permanent immigration permits - Legal Permanent Residency (aka: green cards), and over 2 million legal temporary non-immigration permits.  Only those with green cards can choose to apply for US citizenship after five years continuous residency; most don't. The biggest source of illegal (aka: unauthorized, undocumented) immigration are people over-staying one of the dozens of temporary permits: student, skilled/unskilled workers, visitor, business, clergy, entertainers and the like.
  • Asylees are people who come to another country (usually a neighboring country) seeking temporary refuge from unlivable conditions in their own homeland usually due to war or natural disaster. Internationally, asylum is recognized as a temporary designation and asylees are expected to return home. Openly seeking a better job, social benefits – a better life - is not usually an acceptable claim for asylum; some 90 percent of asylum applications in the U.S are denied for that reason, But many deniees just stay on illegally hoping for eventual amnesty. It is only a misdemeanor.
  • Refugee is an international category developed by the United Nations to designate individuals who seek to change permanent residency to another country because they can document they face permanent mortal danger if they stay in their homelands. Refugees usually are required to make their claims, be vetted and housed in temporary camps or shelters before they are allowed to settle in a country that accepts them. The United States grants refugees a green card within a year if they meet certain conditions. Every country handles refugees differently, as is their right.


The differences in these migration categories are not nuclear science. But politically they are fraught. Immigrant activists, reporters and editors often conflate the terms immigrant, refugee, asylee and migrant into one dramatic, sympathetic and simple (click bait) label: "refugee". That label has been applied for years to the tens of thousands of migrants surging illegally over the southern border even though the vast majority are not qualified for asylum not less refugee status.


The confusion undermines the entire system for legitimate asylees and refugees., President Biden raised the cap of legal vetted refugees to around 100,000 last spring; but he didn't implement it due to the pandemic. At the same time, the 2020 order for certain temporary protected status (TPS) asylees to return home was halted only temporarily by one federal court judge and will come up again.


On August 25, the Supreme Court confirmed that all migrants coming into the U.S. from Mexico and seeking asylum, must return to Mexico while their claims are considered. Even DACA – Obama's 2012 executive memo known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals --  has been declared unconstitutional by a federal court. 


Immigration has become a major issue in the coming German and French elections this year. It will most likely be again a major issue in the U.S. 2022 midterm elections.  Immigration issues caused both Brexit and Donald Trump to win in 2016.  It is important to know the legal terms, not just the spin.



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“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been”. Vice President of the Brookings Institution Darrell West wrote in recommending Peggy Sands Orchowski’s books   "The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965" and  "Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 and 2008 respectively).  Peggy is a credentialed Senior Congressional journalist in Washington DC. She is available for interviews, article assignments and speaking engagements about immigration   porchowski@hotmail.com

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